Time to simplify spinal pain management

Professor Mark Hancock, a global expert in lower back pain, was attracted by MQ Health’s vision of integrating clinical practice, teaching and research.

Professor Mark Hancock, with an anatomical model of a spinal column.

Back pain — research story

Back pain is the number one cause of disability globally but doesn’t get the attention or funding it deserves, says Professor Hancock. That gap is one of the main motivations for his research.

With about 30 other international back pain researchers, Professor Hancock co-authored a series in The Lancet in 2018 on the complexities of the condition. “Many people receive invasive and expensive investigations and treatments that are not recommended or supported by evidence,” he says.

Professor Hancock came to Macquarie in 2012 to help establish the physiotherapy program from the ground up, attracted by how MQ Health interweaves teaching, research and clinical practice.

In collaboration with researchers at the University of Sydney, Monash, Curtin and UNSW, his team created a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Centre of Research Excellence, aiming to reduce the evidence-to-practice gap in the management of back pain, while also investigating new interventions and models of care for back pain.

Supported by two other NHMRC grants, they are exploring how to decrease the use of imaging that’s frequently inappropriate and how to prevent and treat back pain simply and inexpensively.

The RESTORE trial with Curtin is investigating a novel integrated behavioral approach for people with lower back pain that have failed other interventions. Now two-thirds of the way through the trial, Professor Hancock says it seems clinicians need to individualise treatment.

Professor Hancock started a multidisciplinary Spinal Pain Research Group at MQ Health, which he leads with Professor Simon French, from the Department of Chiropractic. He is also working with GPs, physiotherapists, spinal surgeons, psychologists and pain medicine doctors in MQ Health's novel Acute Spine Clinic.